Timeliness, especially when it comes to how you deal with your messages, may be a simple issue but it speaks volumes about your character. It speaks about your integrity, your respect for your colleagues, your friends and your family. It speaks about your priorities, your management skills and, in some cases, even your ambition.
I have always said that your ability to communicate effectively is the single most important skill you will ever master in terms of your current and future success. The problem I see so often is that even those who have become brilliant communicators in terms of their delivered message are so poor at managing their interactions with others that they can destroy how they are perceived even when the message they share is awesome.
What do I mean? Far too many of us miss-manage the entire process of returning calls, returning e-mails, following up and following through that we frustrate the other party to the point of sabotaging our own credibility. When and how you respond is just as important as the information you respond with because if the process is not well managed, your message may not be received, or appreciated, at all.
Let me give you an analogy that might explain my point a little better.
When is the best time to return your voice mail?
When is the best time to answer an e-mail?
When is the best time to respond to a letter or request?
When is the best time to deal with communication you receive?
The unequivocal, undisputable correct answer is "When you receive it!" I'm not a Pollyannaish, goody goody idealist who is here to suggest that you have the time and opportunity to give your full and total attention to everything the world throws at you at the very instant you become aware of it. The world has become far too busy a place for that, but the best answer is still, "when you receive it."
Every time someone reaches out to you and leaves you some form of a message, they are anticipating a reply, sooner than later usually. There expectation may not fit into your reality, but they don't know that.
The modern world has tools and you have strategies to use them that elevate your level of
communication on a professional scale that can effortlessly make you look brilliant. At the same time, you can lift your credibility and reduce your stress while gaining respect and understanding from everyone who wants to communicate with you. More importantly, when you use these simple techniques to manage your messaging, both inbound and outbound, you will gain respect and cooperation that will improve your results and reduce your stress! Now who doesn’t want that?
Just try these simple techniques and observe the results:
Use your technology to control your schedule: It is amazing how the world will conform to your time frames if they know what they are. You can automate responses to your incoming email that tells people when you will be returning messages and you can record greetings in your voice mail that says when you will be returning calls. There will, of course, be exceptions but you’re good enough to recognize those and respond accordingly. For the rest, it does put the burden on you to have the discipline to walk your talk, but it also gives you the piece of mind of knowing that you do not have to respond to every email and phone call when it is received. Tell your audience when you will respond, and they will be happy that they were not ignored. More importantly, they will learn your schedule and adjust their pattern to your schedule. What I’m saying is that you can train the world to follow your schedule as long as you have the discipline to walk your talk. So few individuals in today’s world have sufficient reliability to earn any trust or respect. Set yourself apart and you will be rewarded.
WALK YOUR TALK: This should be obvious. When you tell people you are going to do something, DO IT. If you auto respond that you will answer emails within the day, DO IT! If your voice mail tells callers you will call them back between 6 and 7 pm DO IT! If you aspire to any accomplished level of success you will have to manage large budgets and staff. If you can’t demonstrate the ability to manage your messages effectively, what makes you think your superiors will trust you with the responsibility of large budgets or extensive personnel?
Lee Iacocca made a similar observation in his book when talking about the managers on his team that he chose for additional responsibility, which of course comes with additional salary and respect. He was speaking of vacations when he observed that he had little respect for a manager who bragged that he didn’t take vacations. He reasoned that a manager who couldn’t plan his time well enough to spend two weeks a year with his family realistically wasn’t the right person to trust with the leadership of dozens of people or a multi-million dollar budget.
There will always be exceptions and you need to have the wisdom to respond accordingly, but you will be amazed at how the effectiveness of your communication goes up when your messaging strategy becomes proactive instead of reactive. It can only make your life better!